Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods south

A small, unnamed and gorgeous waterfall on Opal Creek.

Opal Lake, the source of Opal Creek.

Elk Lake, backed by Mount Beachie and Battle Ax. Elk Lake is the starting point for several hikes. Getting to the lake is an adventure, but once you’re there you won’t want to leave.

Sunrise over Olallie Butte and a river of fog, as seen from Gold Butte Lookout.

15. Natural Arch and Rocky Top

16. Sardine Mountain

17. Dome Rock

18. Tumble Lake

19. Elkhorn Ridge

20. Little North Santiam River

21. Henline Falls

22. Henline Mountain

23. Opal Creek

24. Whetstone Mountain Loop

25. Phantom Bridge and Opal Lake

26. French Creek Ridge

27. Battle Ax

28. Battle Creek and Emerald Pool

29. Gold Butte

30. Hawk Mountain and Round Lake

The Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods Wilderness Areas form the largest contiguous expanse of ancient forest left in Oregon. Unsurprisingly, the highlight of virtually every hike in this area is the forest, and fans of the area compare groves of old-growth here only against the nearby competition. Not to be outdone, the creeks and rivers in the area are often an electric shade of green, a reflection of the green rock underneath the flowing water. These two attributes reach their zenith in the Little North Santiam River Trail (Hike 20), Opal Creek (Hike 23) and the Elk Lake Creek Trail (Hikes 11 and 28), three of the finest low-elevation forest hikes in the state of Oregon.

Hikes in this area frequently follow a creek past waterfalls or a ridge top to a viewpoint or rock formation, but very few do both – and those that do are often quite difficult. The low-elevation hikes in this area are open all winter, and you’ll find yourself coming back to this area again and again. There is, after all, only one Opal Creek. The long battle to save the forests and ridgetops from logging left scars, both in the communities here but also in the land itself. Hundreds of miles of logging roads snake across the Opal Creek area, and in many places it is possible to determine the Wilderness boundaries just by looking at the terrain. Regardless of your opinions about logging, it is a jarring contrast.

The challenge of visiting this area lies mainly in the road access. While many of the hikes in this area are accessible year-round, many of the roads in this area are narrow, steep and subject to the frequent washouts and rockslides. A constant vigilance is required - these roads are a reflection of the rugged nature of this area.